Saturday, 14 April 2012

More than words

Here's a thing. 

Its a bit hard to concentrate right now as the children are playing some game that involves the playing of a rather irritating little electronic tune over and over again. I am rising above it, but I just thought I'd mention it in case you think I'm a bit distracted. 

My head is full of things. I'm reading several books at the moment and I'm running out of bookmarks to remind me of interesting things that I am pondering. I have hit a vein reading books by Max Lucado; he writes in a wonderfully simple way and yet manages to surprise me. Bless him, Father God. Whatever he's doing, right now, reach down and touch him and make him smile, will you?  Because someone on the other side of the world is able to draw closer to you because of the gifts you gave him that he faithfully exercises. 

I am still finishing 'In the Eye of the Storm' by Mr L, but I've just been rootling on Amazon's second hand shelves and another of his books arrived yesterday. I flipped through it at random as I climbed the stairs to put it on my 'To Read' shelf and a sentence jumped out at me.
'Pray all the time. If necessary, use words.'
(Max Lucado, 'Fearless' 2009, Thomas Nelson)

My heart leaped. That's no exaggeration. This has made a big difference to me.

I've been thinking about prayer a lot recently. Thinking about it, you'll note, not so much doing it... I've been trying to work out why I find it so difficult. Things have been flying about in my mind; lack of discipline, the idea of getting up early in the morning (No! No! No! Please?), how to come to you more often, for longer, without trying to make lists, quiet time, silent retreats, using objects to help meditation, falling asleep before I get to 'Amen' (sorry about this. Happens all the time).

So, the implication that prayer doesn't have to be formal, doesn't have to be in words - that's freedom. 

Freedom to come to you without my vocabulary. To come to you without knowing how to say what I want to say, or even what I want to say in the first place. The other day I was telling you that I sometimes can't find any words when I'm having a panic about Katy and the lumps on her neck and I sit on the edge of her bed at night and just lift to you all the stuff that wells up in my heart that I can't find words for.  Hope and fear and love and praise to you, the God that made my girls and made knowing them possible.

Made knowing you possible. Who am I to make that more difficult than it needs to be?

I have been thinking that prayer was words. Written words, read words, words in my head. Prayers written by me, prayers written by other people. Prayers had form and shape and meaning. I know that prayer should contain worship and confession and thanksgiving and supplication but sometimes it's hard to structure my prayers in that way. Sometimes they're coming at me too fast to tick all the boxes. Sometimes it feels like I don't have the building blocks to make a prayer. And on those times instead of staying silent with eyes averted, those are the times when I can offer you the spontaneous, the undefined. The things that won't fit into a sentence.

A while ago little Katy said to me, 'I want to make a prayer but I don't know how,' and I told her that if she said what she wanted to God then that was a prayer. What happens if you don't know what you want to say or how to say it? If I can pray without words then that's the answer.

Tears can be prayers. Sighs and groans can be prayers. Stillness can be a prayer. Longings and thrills and exhilaration and shock. Undefined feelings of gratitude, or awe, or wonder. The way my heart responds to beauty or sadness or compassion.

I don't know for certain because I'm not a theologian or a priest or someone who knows these things, but I wonder where the line is between prayer and praise. If we should give our lives as a daily offering to you then what we do can surely be worship. What we offer to you can be prayer, or praise... you decide. Suddenly I feel freer and less obliged. Less stressed out by the prospect of 'getting it right'.

In telling the story of the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:29-32) with regard to worship, Max Lucado says that after Jesus had healed many, 'They praised the God of Israel.'

He goes on:
'I wonder how they did that? I feel more certain of what they didn't do rather than what they did do. I feel confident that they didn't form a praise committee. I feel confident that they didn't make any robes. I feel confident that they didn't sit in rows and stare at the back of each other's heads.
I doubt seriously if they wrote a creed on how they were to praise this God they had never before worshipped. I can't picture them getting into an argument about technicalities. I doubt if they felt that it had to be done indoors.
And I know they didn't wait until the Sabbath to do it.'
(Max Lucado, 'In the Eye of the Storm', 1991, Zondervan)

How wonderful. He states the obvious but how trapped I sometimes feel when I think I have to get it right. How many times do I 'fail' at prayer because it's too hard to do it properly. So often I leave it until the end of the day when I have nothing left and then offer you the dregs of my consciousness before I slip off into sleep.

Yesterday in the garden, when Katy was singing to you and I was potting plants I smiled and my heart swelled and I felt you near me. Things were vivid and beautiful and I registered that a blossom of happiness was spreading through me. Could that have been a prayer, Lord? My soul was reaching for yours. Surely we connected. I'm not sure that I can ever do any better than that.

When I go to see my children last thing at night and they look so innocent, so small, so young in their sleep and the frustrations and raised voices and irritations of the day are smoothed away like a wave on the sand - that's when I offer you the love that I have in my heart for my little girls. My hopes for them, my fears, my dreams and my gratitude.

Even when I'm lying in bed just sliding into drowsiness and I feel the softness of my bed, the warmth of the bedclothes, the quiet of the house and it's such a feeling of comfort - physical and emotional - I lift to you the relief of relaxing the muscles of a weary body in safety. Is it a prayer? Or am I going to far in trying to make my love of my bed into a holy thing?

The wonderful Mr Lucado continues, speaking still of the crowds who worshipped you, Jesus:
'In all probability, they just did it. Each one - in his or her own way, with his or her own heart - just praised Jesus. Perhaps some people came and fell at Jesus' feet. Perhaps some shouted his name. Maybe a few just went up on the hillside, looked into the sky, and smiled.'
Now, I know that looking into the sky and smiling isn't adequate if my entire prayer life consisted of it, but I am thrilled to read that it might be part of it. I think often I miss the point. Often I get bogged down in routine and in form and in expectation. I like words and I like using them, but when I run out of the ability to do that, I've been floundering.

And now I have something else.

Praise to you, Lord. You're not a hard taskmaster. You're looking for ways to communicate. Not that you find it hard, but because I do.

Thankyou, thank you, thank you.
'Worship is when you're aware that what you've been given is far greater than what you can give. Worship is the awareness that were it not for his touch, you'd still be hobbling and hurting, bitter and broken.'
I'd like to think I'd have been there when I heard that this man they call Jesus was healing people. I'd like to think that I'd have recognised my need to be mended and gone along to have a look. I expect it might have depended on whether anyone I knew was going - I can be a proper sheep like that. But I hope I'd have been there. I hope that when your eyes met mine and I knew that I was healed, I hope that I might have fallen down in front of you. I might have thanked you from the bottom of my heart. I might have called your name to heaven in amazement. I might have gone home and told people what you had done for me.

I know that what I've been given is far greater than what I can give. I'm so sorry that even what I can give I sometimes hang onto for myself.
'We have tried to make a science out of worship. We can't do that.'
No, we can't. And I wonder if, in trying to pin down exactly what worship is, or prayer, then I miss the point, and miss it spectacularly. I wonder if prayer and worship are so much bigger than I have realised? A huge bracket term that encompasses so many different ways of meeting with you.

I think that you never meant it to become as small and prescribed as it has. I'm sure that you never meant well-meaning people who long to know you to feel that unless they can do it right, they'll do it wrong, and so perhaps it's better not to try.

If I can pray to you by lifting my heart to you, or reaching out with my very soul to offer you...something...something that I need to tell you, then perhaps that's ok with you?  If I can see a glimpse of you in the wonder of your creation, or in the funny words of my children, or in a tender moment in my marriage, or in a hairy caterpillar going about its business, and that glimpse causes me to close my eyes tight and feel the beauty of your Spirit within me, then maybe that's ok with you too.

I think there's a place for sung worship with a guitar or an organ in church - I'm not saying anything particularly revolutionary - and I need to get better at talking and listening to you. Giving you the last few bleary minutes of my day isn't the best way to show you that I love you. But I wanted to share with you the little epiphany that I had today.

I think you're closer than I thought. I think you love me, and want me to come to you more often. I think you like it when I see you and you love it when I turn to you with delight and recognition in my eyes. I don't think that you need me to be able to report what's happened in my heart; you see it clearly already. You are the master of my heart. You know me intimately. I can't fake my moments with you; the most genuine gifts I could give you come straight from the heart without the need for words.

I feel liberated.

I need to pray all the time. Sometimes I will need to use words, but hey, sometimes it's still alright if I don't.


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